TanzaniteOne from an ethical perspective has had a reputation. At the JCK Jewelry Show just a few days ago, I spoke with a journalist who had written a piece for GIA several years ago, which was never published for political reasons, on TanzaniteOne production. He told me (and he asked not to be named) that five years ago, the average age of a tanzanite miner was 7 years, and that the average wage was a bowl of rice.
No doubt that this type of behavior is too risky now for a player as major as TanzaniteOne. Regardless of their past conduct, which is not the subject of this piece, I see their concern for ethics now on their website as a positive thing.
Ethical is a very broad word. I have always believed that the term “ethical” carries no real value without specific qualifications. When I was at the Tucson Gem Show last February, there was this table set up for ethical jewelry practices in one of the hotels. What they were really concerned about were business ethics — that is, making claims that were accurate — saying a SI1, G diamond is not a SI2, H diamond, for example.
Yet among those who are concerned with using the market of the jewelry sector to support fair trade and the artisan mining sector, ethical practices mean something entirely different. Ethics encompass social justice, environmental responsibility, fair wages and a completely traceable supply chain from the mine, through cutting and polishing and on to the market.
It is hard to tell what TanzaniteOne is claiming. ‘Mine to market’ has become the big buzz phrase in the industry — two years ago no one even mentioned the phrase. Probably TanzaniteOne has been mine to market for a long time — controlling their supply chain and working within a tight group of polishers. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with their claiming mine to market custody.
The question I have is, what is behind their “ethical” claims? Are they merely adopting the language of “ethical” without really integrating it into their operations to exemplify best practices in the sector? Are they more or less doing what they always have, but now just trying to market it differently? I can’t tell from looking at their site whether their ethical claim is more than just empty words.
When you read what Eric Braunwart of Columbia Gem House is doing when he claims fair trade, you can see that his claims are really backed up with concrete, admirable policies. His initiative is serious, well thought out and integrated. I myself make claims for fair trade manufacturing and I specify what that means. http://carouselbeads.com/about-carousel-beads/fair-trade-practice
I remember hearing Martin Rapaport talk about these issues at one of his conferences. His view was that if someone makes a fair trade claim, they need to just explain what they are doing transparently. I agree with that view. On the one hand, we should not need to wait if we want to develop our own best practices. Defining these things transparently adds to the discussion, and serves as a valid stepping stone until such time that a third party certification system exists. Clearly this transparency is not the case with TanzaniteOne when they refer to ethics.
Recently, I had a conversation with a sustainability consultant working for a very major brand that conveys class and luxury. This brand wanted this sustainability consultancy to develop a mission/vision statement that encompassed an ethical view. The consultancy, to their credit, refused the assignment, pointing out that such a mission statement, to be meaningful, has to be organically developed within the company. It can’t just be top down. The sustainability company offered to assist, but in the end this major brand did not want to invest the time to really look at themselves.
I suspect we’ll see more and more of these types of disconnections over time. Third party certification in many critical elements in the jewelry production cycle is a long way off. There is no way to evaluate a company’s claim without openness. Large companies will continue to claim themselves to be ethical without purpose and vision integrated vertically into their systems. .